What a time to be alive. Two months ago Kanye West dropped "Real Friends" on SoundCloud and the masses predictably came running, myself included. For whatever reason the song SoundCloud's algorithim chose to play after "Real Friends" was Rory Fresco's "Lowkey," and just like that a teenage artist from Kansas City has two million plays on his song, and in the age of Post Malone that's enough for a major label deal.
I would hope this goes without saying, but because we live in the age of both rampant hate and when anything less than fawning praise gets labeled as hate, I want to make sure I say it anyway. Good for Rory. I very sincerely hope this betters his life and the life of his family not just now, but for generations. That's no small thing, especially for a young black man in America. Rory may have been discovered "accidentally," but all of our lives work largely by coincidence and fortune. If I hadn't happened to have run into DJ Z online nine years ago now, I probably wouldn't have a career in hip-hop either. Chance opens the door, talent walks in.
So in the immortal words of Ice T, I don't hate the player, I hate the game.
I can't even begin to tell you how many times I've heard major labels complain that the internet ruined the music industry, but they're the worst internet hypebeats of them all. They spent so many years ignoring the internet at their own peril that now they're over-reacting in the other direction, signing any artist with a viral Vine video even if that artist hasn't even remotely proven they have a significant fan base or can deliver hit music consistently.
I've been watching rappers come and go from major labels for a long time, and while the specifics may have changed over time - five years ago it was a hot mixtape, now it's a hot song on SoundCloud - I've seen the same script play out again and again. A young artist catches some buzz and find themselves sitting across from L.A. Reid. L.A. Reid?!?!?! There are platinum plaques on the wall, it's exciting, overwhelming, how could it not be? They get the full speech, all about how they're going to be turned into a star, about how this isn't a label, this is a family (even though they just met that day). And then the artist signs and....a few months tick by, then a few more, and they slowly realize that if this is a family, they're the neglected child. They don't have a large enough fan base to have any leverage inside the label - the label's already over worked PR team isn't about to spend time on their album the second Future or Mariah Carey have a project to promote - and they don't have the experience to know how to navigate the industry's shark filled waters.
From the label's perspective it's a no-brainer. If on the slim chance that the artist manages to continue to make hits and builds a large fan base (without any real support from the label) then great, they got them for a bargain price so early in their career they didn't have the leverage to demand a good deal. And if they don't pan out then whatever, they invested so little it's barely even a loss. Don't believe me, just ask XV or Donnis or Freddie Gibbs or any of the thousands of other artists who met a similar fate about what waiting on a major label's shelf feels like. Ask Bobby Shmurda about how far L.A. Reid's "family" obligations extend.
That's the game, and I hate it. Which is why when an artist does beat the odds, when they somehow figure out a way to beat the system and make big money making music their way, I'm the first in line celebrating. Come on Rory, give me a reason to celebrate...
UPDATE: I spoke to Rory's manager and the announcement was premature and a mistake. He met with Epic but is not yet signed.